St. Michael’s students refute felony charges

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Four students from St. Michael’s College pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court this month to felony charges.

The undergraduates are charged with second-degree unlawful restraint after allegedly restraining a South Burlington man over a marijuana dispute in an on-campus townhouse in early October, court documents show.

Megan Benson of Madison, Conn., Daniel Barry of Dover, Mass., Tyler Malone of Howell, N.J. and Zachary Szczechowicz of Epping, N.H., all face the felony charge along with a misdemeanor of providing false information to a police officer. Barry is also charged with simple assault, court dockets show.

Colchester police originally cited the crew for first-degree unlawful restraint, but dockets show Judge Dennis R. Pearson found no probable cause, bumping it down to second-degree.

Initial reports to CPD from the students said the accuser, 21-year old Amrou Mohamed, was driving around the St. Michael’s campus looking for marijuana. When they told Mohamed they had none, he pulled out a handgun, the suspects told police, according to an affidavit.

An extensive investigation proved otherwise, the affidavit shows.

The incident in question occurred in Szczechowicz’s townhouse, where the group gathered with the intent to assault Mohamed under the facade of selling him pot, Benson told police. Benson also planned to confront him about stealing from her the previous school year, the affidavit shows.

When Mohamed arrived, Szczechowicz met him outside and walked with him into the townhouse. Barry and Malone waited in the living area. Pepper spray in hand, Benson stood by the door, which Szczechowicz told her to close and lock behind them. She then stood with her arms stretched across the door, as if to block it, the affidavit says.

Once inside, Mohamed “realized he was about to be hurt very, very badly, possibly even hospitalized for the injuries,” Detective Jack Lehneman wrote in his affidavit.

Mohamed then pulled out an unloaded handgun and turned to the door. He fought with Benson to escape and was punched in the back in the process, the affidavit says.

Malone told police when Barry saw the handgun, he jumped up and pushed Mohamed outside, pulling him away from Benson.

Campus surveillance cameras show Mohamed casually walking back to the vehicle he arrived in, Lehneman wrote.

“Malone said that if anything bad happened or if Mohamed had gone after Benson they ‘would have gone after him, pinned him down and stopped him,’” Lehneman wrote. Malone also said he and Barry were there “to be the muscle to protect Benson.”

According to the affidavit, Mohamed told police he was afraid of Malone because the student had hit his arm with a skateboard in the weeks prior.

The students were released on the condition they avoid contact with Mohamed. The South Burlington man is facing charges of violation of conditions of release, a press release said.

If convicted, the students face up to five years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines. For simple assault, Barry faces up to one year in prison and $1,000 in fines. The punishment for providing false information to a police offer carries up to $500 in fines and six months in prison.

Barry, Malone and Benson are next due in court on December 7. Szczechowicz is set for a Dec. 21 arraignment for lying to police, a citation for which Judge Pearson had initially found no probable cause but reconsidered with more information from the state, court records show.